Big Bites

Opening this Memorial Day, our new “Big Bites” exhibit will showcase creatures with feeding adaptations that are truly “cutting edge”. Some secure their prey in the blink of an eye, with needle-like teeth, while others take the concept of “roughage” to a new level and make meals out of hard coral. There are species that shear flesh with sharp, serrated teeth, and others that use flat, broad teeth to crush the shells of mollusks and crustaceans.

Interpretive signage will reveal the various adaptations these fish possess, and how their uniquely arranged jaws and teeth help them carve a niche for themselves. For many of these species, form follows function—what (and how) these creatures eat has shaped their appearance, sometimes drastically!

As visitors travel beyond our Secrets of Shipwrecks gallery, they will come face to face with captivating animals such as barracuda, parrotfish and piranhas. The new gallery transports guests into tropical saltwater environments such as Australian coral reefs and warm pockets of the Amazon Basin, where the waters are calm but mealtime is anything but!

The Aquarium has already acquired fish from a variety of sources and is holding them in a quarantine facility during construction in the new exhibit hall. We adopted a large parrotfish from another aquarium and we got more than we bargained for—it was housed with a variety of colorful angelfish and the population dynamics are both engaging and entertaining. In the interest of maintaining a healthy community, we plan to exhibit the parrotfish with its ‘roommates.’

The young barracuda are curious but appear shy in spite of their toothy faces. However, don’t be fooled by their cautious demeanor: They are ambush predators, holding steady beneath docks and kelp canopies, lying in wait for prey. Hailing from a different part of the world is the Vampire Tetra, which dwells in tannin-rich waters along the Amazon. Vampire Tetras are lightning-fast hunters that travel in schools, arranging themselves in formation to take prey from below, subduing them with long, curved teeth.

Our piranha population traveled from an unexpected location, the Vancouver Aquarium in British Columbia. The golden-flecked fish were raised by Vancouver’s staff from the time they were 5 inches long until they were as large as dinner plates. They became available as exhibit plans changed and were personally chauffeured to Oregon Coast Aquarium by the aquarist who cared for them over several years. She passed the torch to our aquarists and spent the day sharing advice and enjoying the facility, pleased to know that her fish are in good hands.

While animal acquisition has been fascinating, the staff has also worked diligently to repurpose some existing tanks. Additionally, the Aquarium is incorporating two new shapes in tank design so visitors can view fish from a new perspective. An all-time favorite design allows guests to crawl inside not one, but two tanks and pop up into the exhibits.

Aquarists are creating habitats that support the biological needs of the new animals and the attention to detail yields visually attractive results.  Visitors will notice the teal colored mouth of a parrotfish as it grazes through the architecture of a simulated coral reef. Guests can peer among the branches of Malaysian bogwood, their stares reciprocated by fish equipped with long fangs and upturned mouths. The collection’s diversity will surely enhance our appreciation of a “big bite”!